Case Example: Denied Claim Leads to Premises Liability Lawsuit

Who pays for injuries on commercial properties? See our injury victim sue two parties to get the compensation she deserves.

This study follows a pedestrian who was severely injured by ice falling from the roof of a two-story office building.

Her initial injury claim is denied, forcing her to name both the property owner and the building management company in a lawsuit.

This case study is for educational purposes only. It is based on actual events, although names have been changed to protect those involved. Any resemblance to real persons or entities is purely coincidental.

We’ll review how our victim was injured, the dispute between the building owner and management company, and the outcome of her lawsuit against both parties.

Our study wraps up with a list of important points about premises liability claims.

How the Pedestrian Is Injured

On a February morning, Susanna Johnston was approaching the Bristling Building, where she worked as an office manager for a construction company. The weather was cold and icy, and it had snowed the night before. As Johnston was about to open the front door to the building, she was suddenly struck in the head by a large piece of ice.

The force of the impact was enough to knock Johnston unconscious. Other office workers heading toward the building rushed to her aid and called for help.

Johnston was taken by ambulance to the local emergency room, where she was treated for a concussion, lacerations, contusions, and abrasions to her head and face.

The police questioned witnesses at the scene. Several told the officers that minutes before Johnston was injured, several other large pieces of ice fell close to where Johnston was hit. They told the police they felt lucky they weren’t also hit. The police cordoned off the area and refused to allow any other persons to enter or leave the building until it was safe to do so.

Johnston was released from the hospital the following morning. It took 23 stitches to close the gash to her head, and several more to close the lacerations to her face.

The doctors ordered her to remain away from work for at least thirty days to allow the concussion symptoms to abate, and so her wounds could heal.

Johnston was released to return to work five weeks after her wounds healed and the headaches diminished. When she was fully recovered, Johnston filed an injury claim with the property owner’s insurance company.

Dispute Over Premises Liability

Johnston was shocked when the building owner’s insurance company denied her injury claim. The denial was based on the building owner’s contention that they had used the services of a building management company and the management company was liable for her injuries.

Determined to be compensated for her damages, Johnston hired an experienced personal injury attorney. Johnston’s attorney filed suit against the building owner, Cush Associates, and the building management company, BCD Management.

Johnston’s premises liability lawsuit asked for reimbursement for her medical bills of $7,000, out-of-pocket expenses, which amounted to $2,100, lost wages of $6,200, and her pain and suffering in the amount of $50,000

The controversy arose when the owner of the building, Cush Associates, denied liability for the Johnston’s injuries and filed a Motion asking the Court to let them out of the case.

Cush Associates claimed they should not be held responsible for Johnston’s injuries because they had contracted with BCD Management to keep ice cleared from the roof of the building.

The owners introduced into evidence their service contract with BCD Management and an insurance policy carried by BCD as part of the service contract.

The insurance policy was written to compensate Cush Associates for costs in the event of legal action brought by third parties for injuries caused by BCD’s failure to maintain the building’s perimeters and roof.

Cush Associates went on to argue they used reasonable care in the hiring of BCD Management. They argued BCD Management was the same management company they used for the last seven years for many of their office buildings. Although there were several ice storms during those years, BCD never failed to keep each building’s roof free from ice. There were no injuries to any tenants or visitors because of inadequate maintenance.

Cush Associates argued that they had done everything reasonably possible to protect visitors and tenants from harm, so could not be found negligent or liable for Johnston’s injuries. Any potential liability for Johnston’s damages would fall to BCD Management.

BCD Management was in a tough spot because BCD managed 14 of Cush Associates buildings. Rather than jeopardize their ongoing business relationship with Cush Associates, BCD management did not object to Cush Associates’ Motion.

Johnston and her attorney refused to agree with Cush Associates’ Motion. They argued Cush Associates and BCD Management should both be held liable for Johnson’s damages.

Ruling on the Motion and Injury Settlement

After hearing the arguments from all three parties, the Court granted Cush Associates’ Motion.

The Court order read, in part: 

“We have been asked to consider whether an indemnification agreement is sufficient to insulate a party from responsibility for damages incurred by a third party. We are unable to hold that all co-defendants in all lawsuits involving personal injuries to third parties are automatically insulated and, therefore, not responsible for injuries to third parties. Instead, we must take each case on its own merit.

In this case, Cush Associates demonstrated to the Court they used due diligence in their hiring of BCD Management. Inasmuch as they relied successfully on BCD Management for at least seven years, we must consider Cush Associates to be without fault.

We therefore grant the defendant Cush Associates’ Motion for Summary Judgment.”

Cush Associates was out of the lawsuit, leaving BCD Management to answer to Johnston’s injury claims.

There was no question that Johnston was significantly injured by ice falling from the office building’s roof, through no fault of her own.

To save the cost of a trial, and to avoid further bad publicity for their client, BDM Management settled Johnston’s injury claim for $62,000.

Important Points About Premises Liability Claims


Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>